ACLU Victorious in Texas Black Arm Band Case

August 30, 1999

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALLEN, TX -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said today that it has settled a federal court case filed on behalf of a high school senior who was suspended for wearing a black armband as part of a five-day silent demonstration.

The ACLU said the settlement represented an unambigious victory for the student, Jennifer Boccia, who was one of approximately 10 Allen High School students who decided to wear black armbands to protest school officials' newly implemented polices in response to the tragic shootings in Littleton, Colorado.

At the time, the students said that the policies, which set new restrictions on freedom of expression through speech and dress codes as well as a standard for conducting random searches, would create a hostile environment in their school. They also said they wanted to wear the armbands out of respect for the victims at Colombine High School.

The settlement, which must now be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Brown of the Eastern District of Texas, declares that Boccia's suspension for wearing a black armband as a symbol of protest violated rights guaranteed to her under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The settlement also declares that the actions of the school officials to discourage Boccia from expressing her views to the media violated also violated her free speech rights. Allen ISD has agreed to take no further disciplinary actions against Boccia and said that any reference to her suspension will be expunged from her school records.

"Jennifer is pleased that this situation has been resolved," said Diana Philip, Regional Director of the ACLU of Texas. "Having the school officials agree to this judgment indicates to students, parents and the community in Allen that the school district acknowledges the free speech rights of public school students."

"We can only hope that those rights guaranteed under the First Amendment will continue to be respected by school officials at Allen High School," Philip added. "It is through example by adults that students can learn to respect those freedoms we have fought so hard as a nation to defend."

The ACLU said it hopes that the outcome of this case will encourage other students and parents to work with school officials to resolve concerns about school policies without turning to litigation.

"As adults we have the right to air our concerns using protected speech in communications with city councilmen and county commissioners," Philip said.

"Our young people have the same rights to express sentiments that may disfavor school policies without fear of punishment, be it expressing views through a manner of protest without disrupting the educational environment or speaking to the media or public at large about issues important to them," Philip added. "These are the lessons we need to teach our kids in order to become productive citizens and respectful leaders in our communities."

The ACLU said the case harks back to the 1969 case Tinker v. DesMoines Independent School District in which the United States Supreme Court recognized the right of public school students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War.

Chief Justice Warren, in his majority opinion overturning the school district's action of suspending the students, wrote that "neither teachers nor students shed their rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate ... In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism ... School officials cannot suppress expressions of feeling with which they do not wish to contend."

Boccia was represented by ACLU volunteer cooperating attorney, Lawrence Fischman, a lawyer with the firm Glast, Phillips & Murray, P.C.

The ACLU news release on the filing of the case can be found at: /news/1999/n072199c.html.

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